As an attendee of the Unite The Right rally and scheduled speaker, I have serious questions about the actions of Virginia police on Saturday. It appears that police created a dangerous situation which was entirely avoidable. I will explain in detail the facts of what happened.
One does not need to support any of the positions of the alt-right to be concerned about what this means about the state of free speech in America.
This is Lee Park in Charlottesville, as it was laid out for Saturday’s rally. The red lines indicate the position of metal barriers. The rally had a legally issued permit, revoked by the city a week before but reinstated by a Federal judge the day before the rally. The barricade layout was as police described to organizers it would be, and speakers received a briefing on this the day before. Virginia State Police commandeered the north side of the park. No one was allowed in that half of the park except a few rally people handling the audio equipment. Police also controlled the streets around the park on three sides: Jefferson St. to the north, 1st St. to the west, and 2nd St. to the east.
Market St. to the south was an uncontrolled chaos full of antifa. The south end of the park is a small hill. Exits 1 & 2 were both short concrete stairways. Speaker and rally attendees arrived via Market St. from the east, protected by police.
When I arrived I was funneled into Exit 1 and up into Pen 1. Shortly after I was able to get around the State Police dividing the pens to the south and made my way into Pen 2, which contained the audio setup for those planned to speak at the rally.
Both exit stairs were defended by rally attendees with shields, and antifa skirmished with them at each stairway. Contact between the two sides was isolated to those positions and relatively under control from my vantage point. Within Pen 2 people felt relatively relaxed and we chatted and socialized while waiting for noon for the rally proper to start.
Shortly after all rally attendees were present in the park, word began to spread that a State of Emergency had been declared, presumably by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. At my position in Pen 2, people were confused by this. It seemed unnecessary and preemptive since the rally seemed fairly well under control at this point. It was about 11:30 a.m., and the rally was not scheduled to start until noon.
After some minutes of confusion and rumors, Virginia State Police got on a loudspeaker and announced that we had been declared an unlawful assembly. We were instructed to leave the park, and told that anyone refusing to do so would be arrested.
Attendees began attempting to leave via exits 1 & 2 and were set upon by antifa as they attempted to do so. After a quick consultation, a small group of rally headliners and attendees decided to engage in civil disobedience and get ourselves arrested, myself included.
We told our security teams to leave the park to avoid arrest, while Virginia State Police began forming a shield wall at the north end of the park. The pens were nearly empty at this point, except for those planning to be arrested and a few people still attempting to run the antifa gauntlet at the stairs to escape from the park.
The VSP shield wall began advancing south, and we linked arms and held our ground. We told police we refused to leave and planned to engage in civil disobedience. We were respectful and informed them we would not resist arrest but we refused to leave the park willingly.
The shield wall advanced on us and began to shove our line. We stood firm and held our ground for a few minutes. Police on the line did not say a word and refused to arrest us while shoving with their shields and swinging them at us.
After a few minutes of shoving, our line was pepper-sprayed from a cop behind the police shield wall, and our resistance crumbled. Being near the end of the line, I was not sprayed directly. The spray drifted in the wind onto my arms and face but my eyes remained clear.
We retreated through the western barricade but police on 1st St. would not let us onto the street forced us to retreat south. We’re pushed through the barricade at the south end of 1st St. and onto Market St., which was lined on both sides with mobs of screaming antifa with no police presence whatsoever.
We ran west on Market St, running a gauntlet of antifa throwing bottles, sticks, and rocks. Two people I believe were nearly blinded by pepper spray. I followed them closely but then dropped back as the crowd hurled everything they had at another protest headliner, luckily missing with most of it.
After running a few blocks west, we reached the intersection of Market and Preston, where a shield wall had been set up by rally attendees on a grass strip alongside Market St. Casualties were being tended there, including multiple heavily bleeding scalp wounds and pepper spray injuries. Luckily all the injuries seemed superficial except one man with a very bad head injury who seems to be going in and out of consciousness.
From there the bulk of the rally attendees were able to march north and eventually reached the relative safety of MacIntyre Park, about two miles away, but many had been scattered throughout the city by the chaos of the dispersal.
At that point the police had completely lost control of the city. The State of Emergency order meant that any public gathering was de facto illegal, but antifa were still allowed to roam freely bearing weapons and attacking people. This chaos ultimately led directly to the vehicular incident that killed a woman and badly injured more than a dozen others.
My conclusions are that police wanted this to happen. It’s clear that VSP had specific orders to drive us out of the park to the south, into the teeth of violent armed antifa counter-protesters.
Police could have easily separated the barricades and removed all rally participants to the north, away from antifa and into empty streets fully controlled by law enforcement. We were driven into a hostile situation intentionally. It’s impossible not to believe that the authorities issuing these orders knew exactly what would happen and that they wanted rally attendees to be harmed and possibly killed.
There was an assumption that police would allow a retreat to the north in the event of a rally cancellation, no one imagined the police would choose to facilitate a clearly violent situation and force the two sides into uncontrolled contact. This looks like it was done with the intent to deny civil rights of a legal protest, in direct defiance of a federal court order. We were set up and trapped, then pushed into a kill zone full of hostile armed enemies. Every injury at this event was due to to the nonsensical withdrawal order of the police.
National Guard (or possibly feds? It’s unclear) had a viewing post atop the funeral home at the corner of 1st and Market, equipped with several cameras. That video will corroborate my story if released.
I got out relatively unscathed, my relatively mild (but still very painful) pepper spraying was my only injury. I was lucky, but many others were not so lucky. Serious questions need to be asked about who gave this order and why the rally participants were not extracted to the north, away from antifa. The opposing sides could have been kept apart very easily, but police chose not to keep the sides apart.
Governor Terry McAuliffe and the Virginia State Police have blood on their hands, and they must be held to account for that.
Perspectives expressed by op-ed authors are their own and are not the views of The Daily Caller.